THE Anglo Tapes expose took a bizarre twist last night as the Government launched the full forces of the State to find the whistle-blower.
The tapes, revealed in this newspaper, gave the public a rare insight into the attitudes of Anglo Irish Bank's top executives in the midst of the crisis that cost Irish taxpayers €30bn.
Now the promised banking inquiry threatens to become a witch-hunt as the political focus shifted from establishing the inquiry to the leaking of the tapes to the Irish Independent and our sister title, the 'Sunday Independent'.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore described the leaking of the tapes as "a serious matter", while Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the situation amounted to "mucking around".
It now appears the stretched garda force will be asked to mount a criminal inquiry to flush out the whistle-blower or whistle-blowers. Detectives will be asked to question our journalists in the attempt to find those responsible for giving the Irish people the truth leading up to the €30bn bailout.
John Devitt, the chief executive of Transparency International's Irish office, said: "There's no public interest to be served in paying for an investigation into who leaked this information.
"The real focus should be on prosecutions (of those responsible for the banking collapse)."
Mr Noonan set the tone earlier when he said that the special liquidator of the former Anglo Irish Bank was seeking to find out who leaked the tapes, and took a swipe at what he termed "mucking around in garda business".
He was asked about the fallout from the tapes, revealed last week in the Irish Independent, and why the bank's former chairman, Alan Dukes, had not conducted his own investigation in 2009 and 2010.
"The guards are the people who investigate crime. The guards have a statutory right to gather evidence. Other people should not be mucking around in garda business," said Mr Noonan.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also said the leaking of the tapes "is viewed by the special liquidator as a serious matter".
He said: "Accordingly, the special liquidator is investigating how they came to be leaked. Given the serious cases that are under way, we must be careful with regard to what we say in order to avoid prejudicing any criminal or civil proceedings."
John Devitt added any hunt for the leaker "will distract attention and resources away from criminal investigations".
Larry Broderick, of the bank workers' union, the Iboa, said: "Isn't it remarkable that, after five years, it has taken Independent Newspapers to wake up this country about the need for inquiry?
"This inquiry can't involve political point-scoring. We want to know what happened and who is responsible. And the trade union movement must be to the fore in ensuring that inquiry protects taxpayers and our members," he said.
The Government is facing pressure to explain why ministers past and present did not know about the tapes, and why there is still no bank inquiry.
Mr Noonan insisted he had no part in the decision to investigate the source that provided the tapes.
But he took an apparent swipe at the leaking and publication of the recordings after he was asked if Anglo's former chairman Mr Dukes had a moral duty to tell the Government about the tapes.
He said: "No, the guards are the people who investigate a crime in this country."
Then he added: "Other people shouldn't be mucking around in garda business because there is the risk of contaminating evidence and that is not admissible in court."
But Mr Gilmore said that Mr Dukes and all other public interest directors have to answer questions at a banking inquiry.
"I think that the question about who knew what and what did they do about it, whether they were directors of the bank or whether they were senior managers of the bank, are fair questions," he said.
"And I think that those questions need to be asked."
In a rare case of cross-party consensus, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty asked whether public interest directors on Anglo Irish Bank's board were aware of the tapes and, if so, why they were not brought to the attention of the Department of Finance.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said he heard Mr Noonan's comments "that people should keep their noses out of garda business".
But he praised the publication of the tapes, saying it was "an excellent piece of journalism" that "achieved more in three months of work than the entire apparatus of the state appears to have achieved in five years".
Former Labour chairman Colm Keaveney said: "There's no point in us getting into a Punch-and-Judy show over who leaked what and when."
TD Joan Collins said: "Any whistle-blower should be protected in a situation like this."
She said she believed the publication of the recordings was in the public interest and said "whoever handed them over was doing it with good intent from the point of view of saying these tapes are there and they've been there for the last four years".